Ameena Matthews: Making a Peaceful Difference on the Streets of Chicago

I was fortunate to be in my car when Ameena Matthews was interviewed on “Fresh Air,” the on-air home of NPR’s extraordinary Terry Gross. The subject was The Interrupters, a new documentary by the maker of Oscar-winning Hoop Dreams. But the best part of it is the interview of Ms. Matthews, whose dangerous work the documentary features. Formerly a gang member herself, she is now a “violence interrupter” working on the south side of Chicago.

The men and women [] known as “violence interrupters”[] work with an organization called CeaseFire, which operates under the assumption that violence moves through a city in the same way that an infectious disease moves through the body. To fix crime, says the organization, violence needs to be stopped at the source.

But there’s a problem: “Not just anybody can come in and tell a guy to put his gun down,” says CeaseFire’s director Tio Hardiman, in a scene from The Interrupters, a new documentary about the group. “Most of the violence interrupters come from the hierarchy in some of these gangs. [And they] have one goal in mind: to stop killings. They’re not trying to dismantle gangs. What they’re trying to do is save a life.”

If you would like to learn more about the challenges of raising children amid the violence endemic in parts of the American urban landscape, you won’t find a better or more moving introduction to the subject than this. Highly recommended. (Podcast available here.)

Posted in Crime, Poverty, Urban America | Leave a comment

The environmental cost of eating shrimp is off the charts

Two vegetarian friends of mine, through their quiet example, have caused me to improve my approach to eating, at least sometimes. Although I will never achieve a “no meat” diet, I eat less of it than before, and I look for meat that has been raised humanely and sustainably. Meat — particularly beef and pork — carry a high environmental cost that is not reflected in its price. And that, of course, is the rationale for having a carbon tax. In any event, it takes up to 7 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef, according to the USDA. The ratio is about the same for pork (6.5 pounds). Chicken is significantly better at 2.6 pounds. So, the environmentally ethical human should favor chicken over beef and pork consumption. But what to eat instead?

Not shrimp, as it turns out, which is far worse:

… the US imports 90 percent of the shrimp consumed here. We now bring in a staggering 1.2 billion pounds of it annually, mainly from farms in Asia. Between 1995 and 2008, the inflation-adjusted price of wild-caught Gulf shrimp plunged 30 percent.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that plates mounded with cheap shrimp float on a veritable sea of ecological and social trouble. In his excellent 2008 book Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, the Canadian journalist Taras Grescoe took a hard look at the Asian operations that supply our shrimp. His conclusion: “The simple fact is, if you’re eating cheap shrimp today, it almost certainly comes from a turbid, pesticide- and antibiotic-filled, virus-laden pond in the tropical climes of one of the world’s poorest nations.”

 Lest anyone think otherwise, these factory farms generate poverty in the nations that house them, as Grescoe demonstrates; they privatize and cut down highly productive mangrove forests that once sustained fishing communities, leaving fetid dead zones in their wake.

… a new study from University of Oregon researcher J. Boone Kauffman finds that the flattening of Southeast Asian mangrove forests is devastating in another way, too…  Mangroves, it turns out, are rich stores of biodiversity and also of carbon—and when they’re cleared for farming, that carbon enters the atmosphere as climate-warming gas.

Kaufman estimates that 50 to 60 percent of shrimp farms occupy cleared mangroves, and the shrimp that emerges from them has a carbon footprint ten times higher than the most notoriously climate-destroying foodstuff I’m aware of: beef from cows raised on cleared Amazon rainforest.

Kaufman calls the shrimp- farming style that prevails in Asia “the equivalent of slash-and-burn agriculture,” because farm operators typically “only last for 5 years or so before the buildup of sludge in the ponds and the acid sulfate soil renders them unfit for shrimp,” he told Science. (via Tom Philpott.)

If only tofu tasted better.

Posted in Animals, Environment, News | Leave a comment

Woz Larry Summers who dunnit

If I were king, I’d send any advisor who did this to me off to a life cleaning the royal chicken coops:

Noam Scheiber:

The Memo that Larry Summers Didn’t Want Obama to See, by Noam Scheiber: …Last month,… Ryan Lizza wrote a much-discussed piece in The New Yorker… The piece … described the stimulus options that Obama’s team—including Larry Summers … and Christy Romer … sent him. The options ranged from about $550 billion to just under $900 billion.

 Intriguingly, Lizza also noted that Romer “was frustrated that she wasn’t allowed to present an even larger option,” suggesting that … the memo he obtained … was far from the whole story. …

 I can fill in … the narrative—an earlier version of the same memo that includes Romer’s larger option. (A source provided the memo…) In this version of the memo, Romer calculated that it would take an eye-popping $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion to fill the entire hole in the economy…

 By clicking on the graphic…, you can examine … Romer’s version of the memo alongside the final version… What’s striking is that … the paragraph in which Romer makes the case for $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion has simply vanished.

 What happened? When Romer showed Summers her $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion figure…, he dismissed it as impractical. So Romer spent the next day or two coming up with a reasonable compromise: $1.2 trillion…, along with two more limited options: about $600 billion and about $850 billion.

 At first, Summers gave her every indication that all three figures would appear in the memo… But less than twenty-four hours before the memo needed to be in Obama’s hands, Summers informed her that he was inclined to strike the $1.2 trillion figure. Though Summers … believed more stimulus was … better, he also felt that a $1.2 trillion proposal, to say nothing of $1.8 trillion, would be dead on arrival in Congress. Moreover,… Summers worried that urging more than this amount would stamp him and Romer as oblivious… “People will think we don’t get it.”

 Romer was uneasy with this. She felt that $1.2 trillion was itself a pragmatic middle ground. She also believed the president-elect should deeply grasp all the trade-offs he faced… She protested, but … Summers held firm. … The final version of the memo … framed the debate around two basic choices—roughly $600 billion and roughly $850 billion…

 Neither the memo nor the meeting would have given Obama reason to suspect this amount was arguably $1 trillion too small. … Though Obama was never going to propose a $1.8 trillion stimulus, and Congress certainly wasn’t going to pass one, the president may well have felt a greater sense of urgency had he better understood how far he was from the ideal.

Professor Thoma:

With respect to Summer’s “People will think we don’t get it” excuse for not even presenting the higher figure, it seems to me their job was to make people get it — to make them understand why the larger figure was on the list of options.

Posted in Economic policy, Economics, News, Politics, Unemployment | Leave a comment

The “total return” for the broad stock market (S&P 500 Index) has declined by 30% in real terms since the March, 2000 peak

If you feel poorer despite continuing to add to your stock market savings, there’s good reason for that. Below is the chart. Note that the “red line” is the one you want. It’s inflation-adjusted and accounts for dividends (not fees or taxes).

Since the stock market peak on March 24, 2000 the line has gone from 1000 to 702 — a 30% reduction. Measuring instead from the pre-crash peak of late 2007, real total returns have gone down about 26%.

Click on the chart to enbiggen.
Posted in Business, Investing, News | 1 Comment

Need help with your movie popcorn habit? Try eating it with your other hand

Via Andrew Sullivan we come to this study finding that grabbing the popped goodness using your non-dominant hand can significantly reduce the kind of eating that we indulge in out of habit rather than hunger:

Participants ate out of habit, regardless of freshness, only when currently in the context associated with past performance (i.e., a cinema; Study 1) and only when eating in a way that allowed them to automatically execute the response cued by that context (i.e., eating with their dominant hand) . . .

Posted in Health, News | Leave a comment

Steve Jobs on mortality as a gift

Today’s New York Times:

In [his 2005 commencement address at Stanford], delivered after Mr. Jobs was told he had cancer but before it was clear that it would ultimately claim his life, Mr. Jobs told his audience that “death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent.”

The benefit of death, he said, is you know not to waste life living someone else’s choices.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

In his final months, Mr. Jobs became even more dedicated to such sentiments. “Steve’s concerns these last few weeks were for people who depended on him: the people who worked for him at Apple and his four children and his wife,” said Mona Simpson, Mr. Jobs’s sister. “His tone was tenderly apologetic at the end. He felt terrible that he would have to leave us.”

As news of the seriousness of his illness became more widely known, Mr. Jobs was asked to attend farewell dinners and to accept various awards.

He turned down the offers. On the days that he was well enough to go to Apple’s offices, all he wanted afterward was to return home and have dinner with his family. When one acquaintance became too insistent on trying to send a gift to thank Mr. Jobs for his friendship, he was asked to stop calling. Mr. Jobs had other things to do before time ran out.

“He was very human,” Dr. Ornish said. “He was so much more of a real person than most people know. That’s what made him so great.”

Posted in Business, Culture, News, Religion | Leave a comment

Westboro Baptist Church to picket Steve Jobs’ funeral

It’s nice to see Rev. Phelps and his congregants continuing to do their bit to make the world a better place:

If you’re ever at a loss for what the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, is all about, take a gander at its website, tastefully titled There, you’ll learn that a “modern militant homosexual movement” poses “a clear and present danger to the survival of America.” And that to combat this menace, the church has conducted 46,635 demonstrations since June 1991 “at homosexual parades and other events, including funerals of impenitent sodomites (like Matthew Shepard) and over 400 military funerals of troops whom God has killed in Iraq/Afghanistan in righteous judgment against an evil nation.” At these protests, church members parade around with signs declaring “FAGS BURN IN HELL” and “THANK GOD FOR AIDS.”

Margie Phelps, daughter of Westboro Baptist patriarch Fred Phelps Sr., announced the church’s latest picket target last night on Twitter:

Predictably, bloggers are having a field day with the delicious irony that the tweet condemning the iPhone’s progenitor came…via iPhone.

Reached by phone Thursday, Fred Phelps Jr.—Fred Sr.’s son and one of the roughly 100 members of the church—expanded on his sister’s rationale for the planned picket. “The main thing in my mind,” Phelps said, “is that [Jobs] operated in a company that was recognized around the world as being gay-friendly.” (via Aaron Ross.)

Isn’t about time for good Baptists to do something about these misguided people? It’s not good for the brand.

Posted in Gay rights, Human Rights, News, Protests, Technology | 3 Comments